Let me tell you a personal story about my introduction to the world of astronomy. As a kid, I had always been a science buff, playing at home with microscopes, magnets, and various gadgets. The snippets of astronomy that I heard in grade school and junior high were fascinating, and I yearned to learn more. So it was natural that I received a 6-cm refractor as a gift from my parents in December 1972, when I was a freshman in high school.
I still remember my first night with that telescope, nearly 30 years ago, as though it were only yesterday. Pointing toward a bright star, I was rewarded with a much brighter view, though of course it still looked like a tiny point of light with no details. A second bright star looked about the same, and the thrill was beginning to wane. I knew, though, that to find out where the "good stuff" is, I would have to consult more experienced amateur astronomers. So, I decided to have a quick look at a third bright star before giving up for the night. As I let go of the telescope and peered through the eyepiece, waiting for the jiggling to subside, I suddenly realized that I was viewing the planet Saturn, with its glorious set of rings! I was dazzled — the sight knocked my socks off! It didn't matter that millions of people had seen Saturn before; that night, in my mind, I had "discovered" Saturn on my own, and the amateur astronomy bug bit me hard... really hard.
I promptly joined the Santa Barbara Astronomy Club and was inundated with helpful observing advice, unbridled enthusiasm and camaraderie, great views of objects through telescopes much larger than mine, and informative presentations at the monthly meetings. I learned so much from my amateur astronomy buddies — it was incredible. And they showed the same love for explaining the wonders of the heavens to laypersons during public star parties and other events. I personally witnessed many people enthralled, inspired, and awed by what they saw and heard, the majesty of the Universe grandly displayed before them. It became clear to me that amateur astronomers were highly effective in bringing science to the public.
Now, three decades later, I am the President of the non-profit Astronomical Society of the Pacific (ASP), a main goal of which is the public dissemination of astronomical knowledge. I would not be in this fortunate position without my early exposure to amateur astronomy. Like you, we at the ASP want to explore the cosmos, and also excite and inform the general public about astronomy. YOU can help us by becoming a member of the ASP and thus supporting our educational activities — including Project ASTRO (a national astronomy education program), The Teachers' Newsletter, an extensive catalog of astronomy-related products for educators and the public (members get a 10% discount), K-12 teachers' workshops, public lectures, and much more. Also, you'll receive our bimonthly Mercury magazine with insightful articles and other items. Please go to our web site at www.astrosociety.org and consider joining! Annual dues are only $48 for individuals ($35 for students) and $75 for families.
Let me also take this opportunity to invite you to attend the ASP's public symposium, co-sponsored by the Astronomical Association of Northern California (AANC) http://www.aanc-astronomy.org/, on September 29, in Pimentel Hall at the UC Berkeley campus. It is entitled The Cosmic Thread: From Stars to Life, and features a stellar list of speakers (Seth Shostak, Geoff Marcy, Jill Tarter, David Morrison, and others). You can register at the ASP web site: $35 for the general public, $30 for ASP members, and $25 for students. It is certain to be a great event.
— Alex Filippenko, Professor of Astronomy, University Distinguished Teacher, UC Berkeley
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